Peter York On Ads: It's funny, it's clever, and it's all for charity

Researching my new book Dictators' Homes last year, I progressed from decoration mistakes to economics. How did all those dictators put together the hundreds of millions - often billions - displayed in their collections of huge and horrible palaces? How did they extract that kind of money from dirt-poor economies, places were people lived on a dollar a day and less?

A pretty constant pattern emerged. There were three revenue streams. The first came simply from putting your hand in the national till. In countries where transactions were poorly documented and civil servants eminently biddable (often they'd be from your gang/your tribe/your village) you could divert astonishing slices of the core national tax funds into your own bank accounts in Switzerland, from where they'd emerge as, say, a pink villa at Cap Ferrat (Mobutu), or an apartment block in New York (Marcos).

Then there was the Monopoly money you could extract - for granting monopolies. If your dirt-poor country had valuable dirt-gold or diamonds or, above all, oil - you got western extractors to bid for the rights. If your country placed an order for high-tech equipment for its low-tech army then a hefty percentage of the order value went to the presidential palace. Those western companies, run by reasonable-seeming haut suburbanites, accepted that that was the price of doing business.

But the worst, most painful revenue stream came from aid. Meta-Aid of the "just give us the money and we'll get on with the job" variety was once doled out by the west to what used to be called the Third World in staggering sums for very mixed motives. Aid was a way of keeping strategically-useful countries on side (a "bulwark against Communism"). It was a way of shoring up countries which looked set to fall apart. And mixed in somewhere there, sometimes a lick of a humanitarian motive.

Whatever the aid was intended for - guns or butter, ploughshares of antibiotics - another big slice came right off the top for the Father of His People. It's impossible to believe that western PMs and presidents on state visits didn't know their own governments had paid for the pink Champagne (Bokassa's favourite) and the marble everywhere.

Aid is a touchy subject: it flushes out every kind of political, social and racial prejudice. It's now much more scrutinised and select committee-ised, and there's a whole profession and language of aid. And a mass of new ways to stop it just feathering nests. But it often still runs down the wrong pipe and gives people who were against giving in the first place that argument that always starts, "It never gets to the people it's meant for...".

Market research on giving to the developing world at the more modest individual level - money in the collecting tin or the envelope - shows, year after year, how people who don't want to give a penny anyway squirrel up tabloid stories that let them off the hook: corruption/incompetence/these-people-can't-handle-money stories. Knowing this, Christian Aid is constantly trying to communicate its Christian Aid Week appeals with simple metaphors that outflank the usual arguments (including the saloon bar bore one that says bureaucratic charities spend all the money on administration). This year it's come up with a classic bit of cut-through, a marvellously simple memorable commercial that's also riskily, rather funny. It's a Heath Robinson/Emett sort of machine which you use in an African village to multiply useful things. Like chickens, or pigs or food crops. Stick a chicken in a bucket on one side and five clones flap out of the other.

You're helping villagers create the resources for self-sufficiency, giving them something useful at the micro-level - not big money at the macro - and it works. (You have to have something about "teaching self- sufficiency".) "You add, we multiply" is Christian Aid's line. It's one of the best charity ads I've seen in ages. More than that, it'll probably make the shortlist for the big board when Adland starts handing out awards.

Peter@sru.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
Sheeran arrives at the 56th annual Grammy Awards earlier this year
musicYes, that would be Ed Sheeran, according to the BBC
Sport
Rio Ferdinand, Alan Shearer, Alan Hansen and Gary Lineker during Hansen's final broadcast
Sport
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

(Junior) IT Systems Administrator / Infrastructure Analyst

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly ...

Sales Engineer - Cowes - £30K-£40K

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Sales Engineer - Cow...

Web / Digital Analyst - Google Analytics, Omniture

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Sales Perfomance Manager. Marylebone, London

£45-£57k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?